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‘Power in the Pulpit’ speakers air assessments, exhortations

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Preachers must escort their hearers into the presence of God by submitting to God’s inspired Word and proclaiming it to His church, preaching professor Robert Smith said during Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Power in the Pulpit Conference.

Smith, of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., said preachers serve as exegetical escorts for their congregations by presenting God’s Word in an understandable way.

“The exegetical escort is an individual who serves in the Lord’s service by taking this Word of God and exegeting it, expounding upon it, dissecting it and saying what it says,” Smith said.

“The exegetical escort is designed to embrace the text of Scripture in order to usher the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.”

Smith, a former preaching professor at Southern, was one of three speakers at the annual conference, along with Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and professor of Christian preaching Hershael York. More than 200 pastors attended the event.

Preaching will always elicit a response, Smith said, noting that the Gospel herald can expect one of two responses.

“God’s Word will not go out and come back void; it will accomplish that for which it was sent,” Smith said. “Sometimes people will respond in rebellion and sometimes in reception. The Word will draw people or it will drive people away.”

Many modern preachers mistakenly value style more than substance, Smith noted. He cited Augustine’s four books on Christian doctrine, “On Christian Teaching,” where the first 75 percent of the material focuses on doctrine, while only the last quarter is devoted to style in presentation.

“What we do is turn it around. [If we wrote the book,] we would deal with style in the first three sections and substance in the last one,” he said. “Substance must be considered primarily and style secondarily.”

Another problem with contemporary preaching is the eclipse of the cross, Smith said.

“We have so much cross-less preaching. Don’t we understand that there is no salvation outside of the cross of Christ?” Smith asked. “It was necessary for Christ first to suffer the cross and then enter into glory. That is what the reformers taught. The theology of the cross [comes] before the theology of glory. Today, we want to wipe out the cross and quickly move to glory.”

Smith also said that many preachers dilute grace in their preaching.

“We start off by preaching salvation by grace and, before we know it, we are preaching sanctification by works,” he said. “Anytime we add anything to grace we are diluting grace. I am justified by grace, sanctified by grace, adopted by grace and I’m going to be glorified by grace. It is grace plus nothing.”

Smith said it is the preacher’s role to be like Philip in Acts 8 guiding the Ethiopian eunuch through Scripture and explaining what he did not understand.

“[Sometimes] the text is closed and the preacher has to open it,” Smith said. “My job is to be an exegete. I am supposed to help people see what they can’t see.”

Mohler, in his message during the mid-March conference, noted there are church buildings on virtually every street corner in America but few expository preachers and the remedy for this shortage is a generation of ministers who will proclaim the changeless truth of the Gospel to a culture that views nothing as changeless.

“We are now in big trouble because as you look across this country, you can find on almost every block a church — that is, a building,” Mohler said. “You can find bricks and stone, and you can find steeples and organs, and you can find pulpits and all the rest.

“But you do not find preaching — at least as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has understood preaching for nearly 20 centuries — in far too many of these churches. And I think it’s because it’s getting harder [to preach].”

Preaching from James 5:7-8, Mohler urged preachers to have patience as they wait for their ministry to bear fruit in listeners’ lives.

“The one thing we may forget that is indispensable to our preaching is patience,” Mohler said. “And the one thing our people do not even know to expect as a matter of our preaching is patience.”

Often preachers become frustrated because every sermon does not appear to change lives instantly, he said.

Biblical preaching is further complicated by the fact that postmodern Americans find it strange to take instruction for modern life out of an ancient book, Mohler said.

“We show up and say, ‘This ancient book is going to tell us how to order our lives today.’ And that sounds extremely strange to a world that isn’t ready to hear an authoritative word from an ancient source,” he said.

But preachers must teach the Bible week-in and week-out because faithfulness to God’s Word over time will yield eternal results, Mohler noted.

“Be strong,” he said. “Be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. How long do we have to be patient? Until the Lord comes. But take heart. The Lord’s coming is near.”

York exhorted conference attendees to preach faithfully even during life’s most difficult times. Drawing on the example of Ezekiel, York said effective ministers often learn to trust God through trials.

“It’s easy to serve the God who will give you your best life now,” he said. “That’s the God we want. That’s the God we create. That’s not the God we serve. How do you serve a God who causes what you have always regarded as the worst-case scenario in your life?

“Dear brothers, I tell you, you’ve got to preach the Word even in the midst of your worst-case scenario.”

During difficult times, the preacher should think about God’s call on his life as motivation to continue proclaiming the Bible, York said.

“Commitment to preach really is a function of your calling,” he said. “If you have a light regard for your calling, if you’re not very certain that God’s really called you, if you feel like you’re just trying this out to see how it works, you will wash out at the first sign of trouble. If you have a light regard for your calling, you’ll have a light regard for your preaching.”

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